Getting feedback right
The manner in which you manage your colleagues’ performance can make the difference between them being an inefficient, dysfunctional group of individuals and a happy, well-functioning team.
If management is the art of achieving results with and through others, managing performance is one of its more tricky techniques. People are complicated and there is no single approach that will work in all situations, but thinking about how you give feedback can be a useful place to start. Feedback is telling someone how they did. It can be positive, negative or constructive. Positive feedback can be an expression of simple praise; constructive is when you need to tell someone how to do better next time; and negative is best avoided (‘you’re just hopeless with IT’) as it’s destructive and does not propose a resolution.
Give people a feedback sandwich
People seem to cope better with the good news first, then the bad news, and finally ending with more good news. One way to do this is to use the ‘feedback sandwich’:
•first, strengths are identified (praise);
•then, weaknesses (development needs) are established;
•next, options for improvement are explored; and
•finally, the feedback ends on a positive note.
Avoid communication breakdown
One of the key reasons for unsatisfactory performance is a lack of feedback about the work people are doing. Often, they simply don’t know whether they are doing a good job or not because no one has ever told them, or they didn’t understand properly when someone tried to do so.
Good communication skills are crucial and there are techniques that can be learnt. A key area is body language. Think about those old photos of Charles and Di: they might have been kissing, but everything in their body language showed they were far from comfortable. So, when providing feedback, what you say is important, but you also need to think about how you say it.
For example, think about your posture and gestures. An open posture will give a more positive message. Eye contact is important, but you want to avoid staring. Be careful about facial expressions: smiles are helpful, but are you frowning or raising your eyebrows? You can do this without realising. It’s worth thinking about the tone, pitch and volume of your voice. If you are getting stressed when giving feedback, these will be affected. It’s also worth picking up similar cues about how your colleague is receiving what you are trying to say. Do you notice responses such as quickened breathing or blushing? How near or far away they choose to be during the meeting can also indicate how they feel.
Good communication skills are crucial: what you say is important, but you also need to think about how you say it.
Listen and motivate
When giving feedback, it’s a good idea to put the other person first and concentrate on what he or she is saying. Through questioning, you can gather information, hear the other’s point of view and highlight key aspects where development is possible. This can lead on to helping your colleague to take action and change. It can be helpful to use the AID framework:
•Actions: concentrate on what the person is actually doing (or not doing).
•Impact: explain the effect these are having.
•Desired outcome: describe the ways in which the person could do things more effectively.
•Acknowledge and praise achievements.
•Check that the problem is due to your colleague’s performance – it could be something beyond his or her control that you haven’t thought of.
•Identify what you need to change.
•Involve your colleague in face-to-face discussion.
•Provide neutral feedback.
•Explain why your colleague needs to change.
•Make it clear that he or she is responsible for changing his or her performance.
•Follow up to make sure your colleague takes the agreed steps.
•Provide a role model – it’s no good telling someone to sort out their files if yours are in a mess!
It is important to focus on observable facts (‘I noticed you have been late three times this week’) rather than making undermining remarks about behaviour (‘you’re always late’). If a manager wants someone to do something differently, it is tempting to tell them in no uncertain terms where they have been going wrong, but you have to find something to motivate the person, and this will not happen if they feel picked on and unfairly criticised. Balancing negatives with positives and providing ideas for constructive action can help. ■